Batuk bakes in Mumbai

Batuk bakes in Mumbai

The Blue Notebook
JAMES A LEVINE
Orion,2009,
pp 206, Rs 250

Batuk who writes a journal from her nest in the Street of Commons during her breaks from ‘making sweet cakes’ with men. Batuk who was her father’s pet until he sold her into slavery and prostitution at the age of nine. Meet Batuk. If Hassan The Kite Runner ripped your heart out, brace yourself for this one.

Renowned in the field of Science, James A  Levine’s authorial debut this, was penned following a visit to Mumbai where he happened to find a little girl ‘in a pink sari with rainbow trim’ in the Street of Cages sitting at the entrance of her cage jotting down her thoughts in a blue notebook.

Crafted as journal entries, a 15-year-old Batuk describes all the atrocities meted out to her in life with nonchalant acceptance, devoid of despair and brimming with positivity.

Serving up to 10 men a day fulfilling their deviant desires, multiple molestations later things come to a head when she ends up in the hands of a rich man’s sadistic son as a birthday gift for him to ‘practice’ on.

Batuk’s imagination takes wings and flies her away into a world that no one else shall dwell. Her hopes and dreams fortify her soul from both her abusers and the abuses her body suffers. She finds solace in thinking about the river she has left behind in her village and makes friends with the tiger (skin) hanging on the wall. (One of India’s biggest problems declares solidarity with another!).

Batuk’s writing style, which is childlike and serious, accepting and questioning, revealing and metaphorical all at once, in its narration of immense abuses like daily chores, leads us by the hand, giving us strength to read on.

Special mention is due to Levine’s style of writing. I have given credit to Batuk’s writing style as though she were a real person. That, I think, is the mark of a good writer; the ability to make the reader believe that this is actually a teenager’s diary. Be it the use of vocabulary, dreams, desires, ideals, stories or a general sense of awe, Levine pins a child’s outlook with easy accuracy. He handles with equal ease the mature woman within Batuk, the expert on men’s regret and guilt, the seductress and the philosopher.

I have never been a fan of violence in fiction especially so if it involves children. Levine’s delicate portrayal of violence ensures that a dull yet numbing pain stays with us long after the book has been set aside.

Having said that, The Blue Notebook stands apart as a book that I would recommend because of its genuineness and Batuk’s sense of humour. Amid all her tribulations, Batuk cushions each of the blows for us with such ingenuous humour that we can’t help being endeared by her charm. For instance, after the heart-wrenching sale scene, she is led to a steaming hot bath where she ‘immediately starts looking for the rice’ because she thought she was going to be cooked!

Batuk maybe “a simple baker of sweet-cake” but this baking business ceases to be that simple a deal when the gaze that meets our indifferent ignorance is that of over a million Batuk-like child prostitutes ‘baking sweet-cake’ on Indian streets today.

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